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As solar power enthusiasts know all too well, renewable energy has the same problem that the "normal" generation of electricity does: how to store all of the energy produced so that it can be used when it's needed.
For solar power, that means even at night.
To date, this conversation has always centered around discovering new battery technologies.
Yet, given the sheer size of power generated, simply serializing batteries, however different these batteries may be, does not seem to solve another fundamental problem.
The roadblock is this: The inability to store energy at its source means there is a significant loss of power once it is moved from generation to transport.
However, a groundbreaking new development in Tonopah, Nev., may have finally solved this stubborn problem.
It revolves around a "secret ingredient" called molten salt, and it has major implications for renewable energy investing...
Making the Sun Shine... Even at Night
This new departure brings the ability to store power even closer to the generation. In this case, it's a way to effectively store solar power, making the sun shine - even at night.
It's the result of a private-sector initiative developed by a Santa Monica, Calif.-based company called SolarReserve LLC.
In fact, on Tuesday, the company announced that the construction of its 110 megawatt (MW) Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project located near Tonopah, Nev., had entered the commissioning phase.
What makes Crescent Dunes so unique it that is the first utility-scale facility in the world to feature advanced molten salt energy storage capabilities. Its centerpiece is a 540-foot tall power tower... and its use of molten salt.
Flowing through alloy tubes at the top of the tower, the molten salt retains the energy produced as heat, ranging from 500 to 1,000 degrees. Even at these high temperatures, the molten salt remains liquid, meaning it can double as a way to transfer and store energy.
According to SolarReserve, this technology can provide up to 10 hours of full power storage, enabling it to provide power on demand just like any other "normal" power plant does.
As a result of the advanced energy storage technology, the 110-MW project will generate more than 500,000 megawatt-hours per year, or enough to power 75,000 homes during peak electricity periods.
This annual output is more than twice that of other technologies per megawatt of capacity.
The storage technology also eliminates the need for any backup fossil fuels, such as natural gas, which are needed in other applications to keep the system going during times of either no or low sunshine.
Under a 25-year power purchase agreement, Nevada's largest electric utility, NV Energy Inc., will purchase 100% of the electricity generated from Crescent Dunes. Full commercial operation is scheduled for later this year.
Once complete, it will be the only facility of its kind in the world.
More Than 10,000 "Billboard-Sized" Mirrors
At the moment, commissioning is still in its initial stages, which includes a system-by-system verification and startup, as well as equipment calibration and testing. Other activities underway at Crescent Dunes include energizing the utility interconnection system and other electrical systems, as well as the first phases of testing and calibration for the heliostat field.
What's a heliostat field?
About the Author
Dr. Kent Moors is an internationally recognized expert in oil and natural gas policy, risk assessment, and emerging market economic development. He serves as an advisor to many U.S. governors and foreign governments. Kent details his latest global travels in his free Oil & Energy Investor e-letter. He makes specific investment recommendations in his newsletter, the Energy Advantage. For more active investors, he issues shorter-term trades in his Energy Inner Circle.